Thursday, September 01, 2005

Oh Hell Yes This W's Fault

Lets even leave aside Bush's utter lethargic response to the tragedy for now. Call me old fashioned but I really think when your sixth largest city is looking like the set of Waterworld II you really ought to take less than 3 days getting home to deal with the crisis....but that's just me.

Long before the storm Winds blew though W made a series of even worse choices that have directly led to the mess we're in right now
So lets get the record straight before the spinmiesters try to have thier way with it. Here's the case against W:

I. Under funding Flood Control Efforts in New Orleans:

Editor and Publisher found no less than 9 Time-Picayune articles talking about how BushCo funding cuts (largely for the war in Iraq ) were putting the city in danger
To Quote them:

When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people,
Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project,
or SELA.Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with
carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building
pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subsideYet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain.


and to get specific


    1. On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for
      Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
    2. Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004
      Times-Picayune:"The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking.
      Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them,
      then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," he said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."
    3. The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite
      of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest
      reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history.
      Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze.
      Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down
      from $36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.
    4. There was, at the same time, a growing recognition that more research was needed to see what New Orleans must do to protect itself from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. But once again, the money was not there. As the Times-Picayune reported last Sept. 22:"That second study would take about four years to complete and would cost about $4 million, said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Al Naomi. About $300,000 in federal money was proposed for the 2005 fiscal-year budget, and the state had agreed to match that amount. But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said
    5. The Newhouse News Service article published Tuesday night observed, "The
      Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate
      a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House.... In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant
      reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection
      project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they
      need."
    6. And if you need specifics: One project that a contractor had been racing
      to finish this summer: a bridge and levee job right at the 17th Street Canal,
      site of the main breach on Monday.

II. Destroying FEMA

Read This Op-ed in the Washington Post called "destroying FEMA"
It lays out chapter and verse why we weren't prepared and why our response times have sucked so bad, and most importantly it ran on Tuesday before yesterday's complete meltdown
Why weren't we prepared? Well:

FEMA -- is being, in effect, systematically downgraded and all but dismantled by
the Department of Homeland Security....the advent of the Bush administration in
January 2001 signaled the beginning of the end for FEMA. The newly appointed
leadership of the agency showed little interest in its work or in the missions
pursued by the departed Witt. {
Clinton's FEMA head who re-oriented the agency
into the premiere disaster response agency in the country}
Then came
the Sept. 11 attacks and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Soon FEMA was being absorbed into the "homeland security borg."
This year it
was announced that FEMA is to "officially" lose the disaster preparedness
function that it has had since its creation. The move is a death blow to an
agency that was already on life support. In fact, FEMA employees have been
directed not to become involved in disaster preparedness functions, since a new
directorate (yet to be established) will have that mission
.

That is why the response to this disaster has been, -not to put too fine a point on it-, a disaster itself. There's literally nobody minding the store when it comes to being prepared for something like this. The folks whose job it was had it taken away, and the honchos at DHS simply hadn't bothered to get around to creating a new department to handle it.

End result?

During the worst natural disaster in at least 100 years, over 50% the state's disaster response resources have been taken by the federal government and sent overseas, and There is a total vacuum at the federal level to fill the gap. It's a miracle things aren't far worse than the horror show we are seeing now.

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